Music Review: Violinist Christian Teal goes out on a high note with final recital at Blair

christealViolinist Christian Teal gave his final recital as a Blair School of Music professor on Sunday afternoon at Ingram Hall. For Nashville’s classical community, the event marked the end of an era. Teal has taught violin at Blair for 42 of the music school’s 50 years. As Dean Mark Wait commented during a post-concert reception, Teal has been an influence at the school for 84 percent of its history.

To cap such a long and meaningful career, Teal decided his final concert should make a statement. So his program consisted of three landmark works for violin – Bach’s Partita No. 2 in D minor, Debussy’s Sonata for Violin and Piano in G minor and Brahms’ Sonata for Violin and Piano in D minor, Op. 108.

Bach’s solo partita, which opened the concert, stands at the apex of the violin repertoire. This amazing five-movement work concludes with the justly famous Chaconne – 15 minutes of the most dauntingly difficult and spiritually uplifting music ever created.  Teal gave the entire piece its due.

Using minimal vibrato, he played the opening movements – Allemande, Courante, Sarabande and Gigue – with a bright, clean sound.  He paid heed to the niceties of Baroque performance practice – his dynamics were expertly terraced and his rhythms were delightfully springy. But his playing was also deeply personal, especially in the Chaconne, where Teal sustained the grand line to achieve a resounding climax.

mcguireDebussy’s 12-minute-long Sonata for Violin and Piano, which closed the first half, seems almost like a bagatelle compared to the partita. Nevertheless, Teal and his collaborative partner, pianist Jennifer McGuire, found in this valedictory work a wealth of instrumental color. Teal’s sensuous playing produced a beautifully diaphanous texture, with his high notes seemingly melting from the heat of his emotion. McGuire provided accompaniment that was both expressive and dramatic – she tossed her hands high above the keyboard during climactic moments.

Teal is Vanderbilt University’s Joseph Joachim Professor of Violin, so naturally he could not retire without performing Brahms.  (Joachim, the 19th-century Hungarian violinist, had been Brahms’ close friend, adviser and muse.) Brahms’ four-movement Sonata in D minor is symphonic in scope and dauntingly difficult. Teal gave it a warm, impassioned account that managed to be both sensational and songful at the same time. McGuire’s playing was appropriately virtuosic.

There was really no way to top any of the great works on the program, so for an encore Teal opted for simplicity, performing a lovely “Sicilienne” that he used to play as a lullaby for his daughter. It was an unfailingly sensitive performance, and it went straight to the heart.

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About John Pitcher

John Pitcher is the chief classical music, jazz and dance critic as well as co-founder of ArtsNash. He has been a classical music critic for the Washington Post, the Rochester (NY) Democrat and Chronicle, National Public Radio’s Performance Today (NPR), and the Nashville Scene. His writings about music and the arts have also appeared in Symphony Magazine, American Record Guide and Stagebill Magazine, among other publications. Pitcher earned his master’s degree in journalism from Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism, where he studied arts writing with Judith Crist and Phyllis Garland. His work has received the New York State Associated Press award for outstanding classical music criticism.